Shreya Ganesh had been struggling with motivation as a Memphis high school freshman when one day, the district superintendent tweeted that all students were getting a half day off. 

It was spring 2020, right before spring break and right as the COVID pandemic was beginning to take the nation and world hostage. Memphis-Shelby County Schools would eventually announce that in-person learning was over for the school year

“And I didn’t even know what to do with myself,” said Shreya, now a senior at White Station High School, at a Chalkbeat and New Memphis-hosted storytelling night. “OK, I thought, this is just a really, really long spring break.” 

Shreya said that the pandemic disruption and online learning, while incredibly challenging, helped her take a mental break from a taxing school schedule and forced her to ask herself, “What do I really want to do?” The time she spent doing schoolwork alongside her sister, a college student also learning from home, heavily influenced new passions and goals. And Shreya said she developed more intentional friendships, even if she couldn’t see her peers in person. After a year of online learning, she returned to in-person classes as a junior. 

“My first day of junior year, I felt like I was finally stepping into the shoes I’d been making for the last two years,” Shreya said, adding that she finally got to connect with friends she had made during online learning, and that her anxiety around tests and college had plummeted during the pandemic. “I’m really proud of how I grew during all of this. This is my comeback story.”  

Right before the school year began, Chalkbeat Tennessee partnered with New Memphis for an evening of stories from students and educators. New Memphis also announced its news class of Educators of Excellence.

You can watch the stories, including Shreya’s, in full below. Special thanks to additional event partners, Spillit, and the Daily Memphian.

Storytellers hit on the theme of “The Comeback,” which is what the last school year was supposed to be as students returned to classrooms after months of remote or hybrid learning, disconnection, and uncertainty. And for many schools, it was a comeback year for a while, as schools returned to in-person and vaccines were widely available. But as Shreya’s story illustrates, students and teachers are forever changed — in some good and in many incredibly challenging ways. 

Watch Shreya’s story in full below, as well as stories from four other Memphis educators and students. 

Shreya Ganesh, senior at White Station High School and Bank of America student leader

Curley Harris, dean of students at Promise Academy Spring Hill

Natalie Nixon, senior at Houston High School and student leader with BRIDGES

Athumuni (Arthur) Niyokwizigigwa, sophomore at Central High School and student leader with the Refugee Empowerment Program

Josh Czupryk, director of academic operations at University Schools

Caroline Bauman is the community engagement manager at Chalkbeat.